Sep 15 2008

Social Networks will be the downfall of civilization!

Published by at 6:11 am under Privacy

Hyperbole aside, social networks are causing a change in our society.  The very concept of ‘privacy’ has undergone more mutation in the last five years than it has the last 50 years combined.  What my generation took for granted and are stressing about is apparently something young adults in college take for granted, even if they don’t understand the repercussions of the change.  And as always, change isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just something that is.

While waiting for a plane flight home last Friday evening, I picked up a copy of this month’s Scientific American.  This was a special issue, titled “Will Technology Kill Privacy?”  To me, this is one of those topics that if you’re not concerned/scared, then you’re not paying attention.  I can honestly say that every article in the magazine was worth taking the time to at least skim to get the gist of the topic and at least half of the articles were worth taking the time to read beginning to end.  But the one article that I read that really caught my attention was “The End of Privacy?” by Daniel Solove.  It highlights how easily information flows into and out of social networks and how little concern many younger people place on this flow.  It also talks about how little most users of MySpace, Facebook and other social networks understand this.

Then over the weekend I read a Computerworld review of a CareerBuilder survey concerning employers and social networks which basically points out that employers are paying more attention than ever to what potential employees post to social networks.  What surprises me is not that employers are researching potential employees social networks, but that the number isn’t higher than 22%; if I was an employer, I’d not only be looking at the social networks of potential employees, I’d be seriously considering making a corporate policy to do an annual review of current employee’s social networks.  While this seems a little strange coming from someone who considers themselves a privacy advocate, I also believe that once you’ve posted information to a social network, you no longer consider it private so neither should I.  I do have a couple questions about the CareerBuilder survey, like what industries were included in the survey and how much of a difference that makes?

Careerbuilder has some good suggestions for potential job seekers, which basically boil down to “don’t put anything on your social network you don’t want a potential employer to see”.  It’s amazing how few people actually realize that what they put on their Facebook page can be seen by anyone in the world and what the repurcussions can be.  Not only can putting the wrong picture on your page prevent you from getting you a job, it can lose you a job you already have; over the last few years there have been multiple cases of people losing their job because they posted inappropriate pictures or commented on the great party they went to when they’d called in sick for their shift that day.  Again, if you’re posting something on Facebook for the world to see, don’t be surprised if your boss considers himself part of ‘the world’.  I’ve always wondered if any of my managers take the time to read my blog, listen to the podcast or follow my twitter stream.  Which is why I’m more than a little careful with what I say and write, though if you know me, what I say face to face isn’t all that much different from what I tweet and write.

The final social network story that caught my attention was about researchers who see social networks as the next big attack vector for malicious code.  I’ve been more concerned about the problems with social network code since I saw the “Satan is on my Friends List” presentation at Defcon; it’s a bit of a wakeup call when you go to a talk at Defcon and see your own picture as part of the presentation (Nathan and Shawn had done impersonated some folks in Twitter, and I’m one of the people who fell for it).  It’s becoming very clear that as hard as they might try to make it safe, the fact that social networking sites are allowing end users to post code to the site is a huge security hole.  No matter how hard they try to sanitize the code and make it safe, it’s a difficult balancing act between letting the users do what they want and preventing them from doing bad things to other users.  This is one of the reasons you’ll never find me clicking on a link to a MySpace page and rarely checking my own Facebook account, let alone looking at someone elses. 

Social networks aren’t bad, at least not any more than any technology on the Internet.  But they do have the potential to be misused and abused, just like nearly every other technology ever created.  The problem is that we’ve undergone such a quick adoption rate that very few people have paused to understand the repercussions of sharing information that used to only be available to a few of their friends and family.  Few people understand that the pictures and anecdotes you’re sharing with your friends across the country are also potentially being shared with millions of people around the globe. 

I’m not going to argue against using social networks; I use Twitter extensively, I blog, I podcast, and I use other social media a fair amount.  What I will argue is that most people need to put more thought into what they’re posting on the Internet.  If you’re posting something to the Internet, take a moment to think about this question:  Would you be embarrassed if your mother/father/significant other found it by accident?  If the answer is yes, then make sure you’ve made the information private.  Or better yet, don’t post it at all; a number of social networking sites have accidentally disclosed information that the users have marked private over the years.  It’d be a shame to lose your dream job because that picture of you at a friends party holding a bong suddenly came to light.

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Social Networks will be the downfall of civilization!”

  1. Leeon 15 Sep 2008 at 6:31 am

    What I’ve always wondered is where the blanket level of “trust” of these sites comes in. It seems like every lay user I come across seems to automatically trust a social networking site as entirely good. It’s increasingly difficult to convince someone NOT to post every last detail about themselves online. Does this come from the sense of “community” that these services have? A desire to be a team player? (Everyone else posts their innermost secrets, I should to!).

    Is this a cry from people to share themselves with the world? That the better everyone on the internet knows you, the more they’ll like you? That seems like a shallow sort of relationship with the internet to me, and a potentially very dangerous one.

    Thanks for the post, I definitely agree with the part about the new attack vector for online users.

  2. Joe Franscellaon 15 Sep 2008 at 6:41 am

    Be interesting to do a survey of how many people have lost a job due to something they posted. Not based on an assumption, but how many were actually told by HR that they are being fired specifically due to a post.

  3. Martinon 15 Sep 2008 at 6:53 am


    I can remember about half a dozen examples of this happening off the top of my head, ranging from an intern calling in sick then posting Halloween pictures of himself drunk, to a teacher who was fired for encouraging drinking by posting a picture of herself with alcohol on her Myspace page.

    I also wonder how many people get fired for what’s on their social network pages but are never told the specific reason. It’s amazing how creative HR can get when they want to fire someone for doing something embarrassing. “Unprofessional behaviour” can encompass a heck of a lot of things.


  4. Aaron Guhlon 15 Sep 2008 at 10:45 am

    More over is the threat to businesses that Web 2.0 pose. Not only is it a risk to the privacy of people, but to businesses too. I’ve read that more than one third of all data leaks are through message boards or blogs that are on the internet. It seems like businesses don’t take internet privacy seriously either.

    I think social networks are getting better though. Many of the big ones (facebook, myspace, etc) have taken much larger leaps in security over the last year. I think security always takes a backseat when it comes to new technology innovations. It usually isn’t until the second or third iteration of the technology that security is looked at. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t matter how secure something is, it comes down to how a user uses it that determines its privacy level.

  5. Anthony Hamiltonon 15 Sep 2008 at 10:37 pm

    I think employers should have the right to check socail networks. people should know by now that 1 out 5 employers check social networks. – video yellow pages

  6. John Maloneyon 16 Sep 2008 at 8:55 am

    Hi —

    Good topic, thin discourse.

    “You have no privacy. Get over it.” -Scott McNealy, Sept 2003.

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – 4th Amendement

    Privacy, in the way described in the blog, is a modern notion. It is now, thankfully, completely obsolete.

    “…little concern many younger people place on this flow….” This is deliberate. It is a more authentic model. It will continue and expand sharply.

    I suggest a higher-order conversation, more contemporary, and suited to our post-privacy world.

    You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, so deal.


  7. James Tafelon 03 Dec 2008 at 8:48 am

    In my opinion, the downfall of anything relies solely on the responsibilities of individuals. “Personal Responsibility” There is no greater recourse one can have, there is no one else to blame. There are consequences to absolutely every decision we make (good & bad), therefore education is pivotal. Since educational attainment varies in all sociological demographics. Niche Networks are out there; for instance has an area that resembles a social-network, has educational resources to bring a higher level of thought, and tools to help an individual effectively plan for most of life’s circumstances. The social area is by invitation only, secured on multiple levels and has a communications center tied in. This type of network is by far the most beneficial site available.

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